The Thinking of Bruce Reidel

Bruce Reidel was the chair of the Afghanistan Strategic Policy Review. The President in his remarks today lauded his efforts and praised him for influencing his thinking. So what does Bruce Reidel think?

Perhaps the most succinct encapsulation comes from an op-ed published in the New York Times on January 26th, 2009. The op-ed is entitled How Not to Lose Afghanistan and it forms part of the Times' Room for Debate series where the editorial board of the nation's paper of record queries noted analysts for their thoughts. In this case, the Times asked "Barack Obama has said that his priority in the war on terrorism is Afghanistan, and is poised to increase troop levels there, perhaps by as many as 30,000. How should the United States deal with growing strength of the Taliban? Is increasing troop levels enough?" Mr. Reidel in his portion responded:

President Barack Obama is rightly sending thousands more American troops to Afghanistan to reverse the downward spiral in the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched. Seven years of a half-hearted effort by the Bush administration has left the country in a perilous state. Much of the country is now threatened by the resurgent Taliban. The Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar, is confidently predicting the NATO forces will leave defeated within a few years, like the Soviets in 1989, and is even offering them "safe passage" out of the country.

The most immediate needs are near Kabul and in the south around Kandahar. The Taliban has staged increasingly bold attacks into the capital in the last year, almost killing President Hamid Karzai, and the surrounding provinces have seen mounting Taliban operations. If trends continue the capital could be increasingly cut off from the rest of the country.

The south is in even worse shape. For the last two years, British, Canadian and Dutch troops have been fighting desperately to stabilize Kandahar, Helmand and Urzugan provinces against a determined Taliban based across the border in Pakistan. This is the Taliban's traditional heartland where Omar first created the Taliban in the mid-1990s.

We should seek more troops from our NATO allies but also from Muslim allies like Morocco and Indonesia that have a common interest in defeating Al Qaeda. It can be done; already the United Arab Emirates has a few hundred troops in Afghanistan.

More troops must be accompanied by rapid economic development, especially road construction. Since 2001, 2,000 miles of road have been built or repaired but the Kabul government projects a need to build 11,000 miles more to bring security and modest prosperity to the country. Again it can be done; India has just finished a model $1 billion road project in the southwest opening a highway to link landlocked Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean via Iran.

The additional troops also need to train and build a stronger Afghan military. In the 1980s, Afghanistan had an army three times larger and an air force 10 times larger than what seven years of erratic Bush effort has produced. An open-ended large foreign military presence in Afghanistan is a mistake in a country with a history of defeating foreign invaders. Our goal should be a rapid reversal of the Taliban's fortunes followed by turning responsibility over to a trained and equipped Afghan security force.

It thus should not be surprising that President said the following:

Our troops have fought bravely against a ruthless enemy.  Our civilians have made great sacrifices.  Our allies have borne a heavy burden.  Afghans have suffered and sacrificed for their future.  But for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq.  Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals.

I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months.  These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border.  This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential elections in Afghanistan in August.

At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That's how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.

For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training.  And those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq.  Now, that will change.  The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity.  And later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police.  Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner.  We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 -- and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.

This push must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort.  Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people.  The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency.  The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future.  Yet once again, we've seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty.

So to advance security, opportunity and justice -- not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces -- we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs.  And that's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground.  That's also why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations -- an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in The Hague.

At a time of economic crisis, it's tempting to believe that we can shortchange this civilian effort.  But make no mistake: Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future.

Mr. Reidel's thinking is clearly evident throughout. On January 29, 2009, Mr. Reidel sat for an interview with Bernard Gwertzman of the New York Times. If you take the time to read the interview, you'll find that the White Paper released today by the White House reflects Mr. Reidel's remarks from January.

I noted previously that the internal debate in the White House was largely between the minimalist approach of counter-terrorism favored by Vice President Biden and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and the more robust counter-insurgency approach favored by by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, US Central Command leader General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr. Reidel's views do not fit squarely in either of these camps but his views are closer to those the Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton troika than that of Biden and Steinberg. I do think it wise to sit and sift through the White Paper first before offering more commentary but in case you wondering I like Joe Biden. I really like Joe Biden.

As for Mr. Reidel, I must say after spending the day reading some of his work for the Council of Foreign Relations and for the Brookings Institution, I appreciate his realism. It is at the very least reassuring to note that the hour of the neo-conservatives has passed.

Tags: Af-Pak Strategic Policy Review, Afghanistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Bruce Reidel, pakistan, President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Foreign Policy, Vice President Biden (all tags)



Thinking that

we need to prioritize. Universal Access for Health Care, fixing our OWN crumbling infrastructure, legalizing pot, rebuilding New Orleans, Nationalizing the Banking System, developing real and adequate alternatives to OIL, Capping executive compensation, imprisoning Cheney and his boy Bush, and winning a veto proof majority in the Senate....

Then I think we ought to concentrate hard on Afghanistan's problems, just as soon as we have a stable two state solution in Israel and eliminate the deficit.

by QTG 2009-03-28 02:34AM | 0 recs
in 4 years...

actually, less, you will have a chance to run for president.  then the country will have an opportunity to vote on your priority set.

president obama's emphasis on afghanistan, as well as his winding down of iraq, were heavily articulated and well known in the course of the last campaign.  this should surprise no one -- except those who didn't believe that he would do what he said he would do...

by bored now 2009-03-28 04:26AM | 0 recs
Re: in 4 years...

I WILL run for President (but of course I won't win because the system is completely unfair) , but just like about 97% of the people who blog here - I would probably do a better job since Obama always has to think about stuff and have meetings with experts and such. All of that is a complete waste of time (a consensus MyDD opinion) since the solution to most problems is quite plainly obvious and super simple!

Universal Health Care? Piece of cake if you really want to do it!

by QTG 2009-03-28 04:55AM | 0 recs
good for you...

i'd have to question your judgment about how simple the answers are, though.  i suspect all the simple stuff has been tried.  what remains is complex and intricate.  i endured 8 years of simple answers, and look what it got us.  BUT:

don't let that stop you.  when i worked in d.c. years ago, a senate leader once told me: they (the newbies) all come to change the world.  the ones that survive are the ones who figure out how hard it is.  i have the strong impression that president obama understands just how hard it is to do what he promised to.  and i witnessed him explain that to the electorate many times.  i guess it didn't prepare people, though.

personally, i think that regeneration in government is a good thing.  so don't let my opinion about your judgment stop you.  we just don't agree on how easy governance is...

by bored now 2009-03-28 05:15AM | 0 recs
Re: You need only

 read the rec listed Diaries here to get a schooling on just how simple the solutions would be and how our bumblingly bad new President and his appointees are mucking things up. I know they've helped me realize that the shiny illusion of HOPE that I thought I felt was just indigestion.

by QTG 2009-03-28 07:39AM | 0 recs
i seriously doubt...

that being on the rec list of any blog is sufficient (or even a start) for good public policy.  but that's just me.

if the simple was possible, we wouldn't have needed hope, and obama wouldn't be president.  there is nothing in the world more simple than sarah palin!  but when you line up votes in congress for simple solutions, let us know.  that's a very simple solution for your problems...

by bored now 2009-03-28 10:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Perhaps it's the

 earnestness that got you. I tried to channel the tone of some of our most critical 'thinkers', with their thinly veiled derisiveness tinged with an ever so subtle dollop of cynicism steeped in a simmering stew of sour grapes and served with an air of growing concern and disappointment. We were, after all, amply warned - and we now have a thrice daily serving of our just desserts.

by QTG 2009-03-28 07:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Perhaps it's the

If it ever occurs to you that someone might actually have an honest disagreement, that will be a remarkable day indeed.

by Steve M 2009-03-28 08:11AM | 0 recs
Re: It's remarkable day indeed - or is it?

because I actually do honestly disagree with you on that.

by QTG 2009-03-28 08:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Perhaps it's the

What are you even talking about?  Are you suggesting that I am an acolyte of David Sirota?  Wow, talk about a swing and a miss.

by Steve M 2009-03-28 10:32AM | 0 recs
Realist better than Neoliberal, but...

It is wonderful not to have neoliberals running our foreign policy. Their fear-mongering, lying, and vicious militaristic response to every challenge was a horrible disaster for us and for the world. But the "realists" who have replaced them are still pretty militaristic.

Reidel argues that Bush's effort in Afghanistan has been "half-hearted". This reminds me of all the Right-wingers who say we lost Vietnam because we didn't really try. But in Vietnam, the only thing that was not tried was nuclear weapons. Massive bombing, intense counter-insurgency, Agent Orange, destroying villages to save them -- the US killed several million Vietnamese, inflicted massive damage to the country, and yet still incurred 50,000 dead and were driven out of the country. The US tried really hard and still lost because the Vietnamese saw us as an outsider invader. Just like we would if invaded by outsiders, they fought hard to for 30 years to drive first the French and then us out.

Afghanistan is shaping up to be another Vietnam. The US military effort has not been "half-hearted" -- it just has not been successful. The Afghanistan war has now ben waged almost 8 years -- longer than any other US war (aside from the American Indian wars). Our military occupation is uniting various factions and helping to recruit new members of the Taliban. An increased military presence is likely to just make matters worse.

The US ostensibly invaded Afghanistan to stop Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. But terrorism is seldom stopped by a military invasion/occupation. It is best stopped through other means. See for example this Rand study: How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida, by  Seth G. Jones, Martin C. Libicki, Rand Corporation, 2008.

The military is best equipped for destroying an enemy and destroying the infrastructure that supports that enemy. But when there is no clear enemy -- when most of the population opposes your military invasion/occupation, then everyone is an enemy and the only way to win is to kill the entire population and destroy their country. This form of "winning" has no humanitarian basis -- it only makes sense to those who feel the need to dominate, control, and destroy others (narcissistic sociopaths) or to those who think it is good for the United States to have a big empire (imperialists).

I voted for change and hoped that President Obama would listen to the full spectrum of opinion on foreign affairs. He is now listening to realists in addition to neoliberals and military brass, but he is still not listening to the wisdom that could be offered by the peace community.

by RandomNonviolence 2009-03-28 06:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Realist better than Neoliberal, but...

the problem with your prescription (ie, the ones pointed to by the rand book) is that conditions don't exist for either alternative (al-qaeda joining the political process or local police and/or intelligence services getting terrorism under control).  more importantly, you seemed to assume that just because the president has increased our military involvement in the afpak region that he believes that "Military force can be the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups."

the first goal of our effort against al-qaeda should be to cut off its head.  all charismatic movements are effected when you eliminate its charismatic leader.  since there are no other forces (military or nonmilitary) outside the united states that is capable of doing this, we have no choice but to be involved.  and since al-qaeda attacked us, we certainly have just cause for doing so.

the reality is that the united states, let alone the u.s. military, is not in full control of this conflict -- and probably cannot be the most decisive force in its outcome.  but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be involved -- nor that we shouldn't be trying to deter terrorist attacks on our soil and on our people.

the election of barack obama does split the "anti-war" movement because reaction to bush's invasion of iraq coalesced people who believe in the just war theory (and, thus, weren't necessarily opposed to the use of force) and those who were more pacifistic in nature.  afghanistan was always going to be the fulcrum that split that movement.  as a candidate, obama was honest about his approach here.  as president, he's kept his word...

by bored now 2009-03-28 10:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Realist better than Neoliberal, but...

I'm not sure I would agree with your proposition that al-Qaeda is a "charismatic movement."  In fact it increasingly seems like a pretty loosely affiliated organization to me.

by Steve M 2009-03-28 10:51AM | 0 recs
elsewhere i would use the term messianic...

UBL's version of islam is really better understood as a religious cult.  whether or not you agree, you can probably see the logic of crippling a cult-like movement by "cutting off the head" of the charismatic leader.

i happen to agree with you about the loosely affiliated nature of what i'd call a network, not really an organization, of al-qaeda.  but that really speaks to how islam has been organized.  focusing on UBL doesn't alter the disorganized (as we commonly understand it) nature of al-qaeda, but it would eliminate one of its central organizing principles.

i won't suggest that these are commonly-accepted views...

by bored now 2009-03-28 11:44AM | 0 recs
Poor strategy, not in conformance with Just War

The US war in Afghanistan does not conform to most of the tenants  of Just War Theory as it is generally understood. For example, just quickly looking over the list:

* Probability of Success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success. -- Over 7 years of war and several thousand deaths hasn't led to success yet. Will more war work?

* Last Resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted, especially good-faith diplomatic negotiations -- Has the US seriously tried to negotiate? Bush made demands, but didn't make any good-faith attempts to negotiate with anyone.

* Discrimination and Non-Combatant Immunity: War must only be directed towards those engaged in harm, enemy combatants, and not towards civilians caught in circumstances they did not create. -- The US has been killing civilians regularly in Afghanistan. But more importantly, we have been fighting Afghanis, not the al Qaeda terrorists who attacked the Pentagon and WTC. The Afghanis were, at most, only very indirectly involved in that attack. This criteria says we should, at most, only be fighting in the mountainous region near Pakistan.

* Prisoners of War (POWs) Treated Humanely: Enemy soldiers who surrender are no longer causing harm and so must be treated well. -- Torturing prisoners and holding people who were not combatants without recourse at Bagram AFB breaks this criteria.

One doesn't have to be a pacifist to oppose the Afghanistan war. [And just fyi, most people in the peace community are not pacifists.]

Here is a very good example of a strong military person who points out that this strategy does not make sense. Michael Scheuer was the CIA's former point man on Osama bin Ladin. He is certainly not a pacifist. But in his book Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq he says (as summarized by Tom Hayden):

the options are either to kill all the jihadists, make it quick, and withdraw [not a real option], or begin pursuing an agenda which addresses what he calls Muslim issues: the American military and civilian presence in the Arab Peninsula, the unqualified US support for Israel, US support for states which oppress Muslims [China, India, Russia], US exploitation of Muslim oil and suppression of its price, US military presence in the Islamic world, US support and protection of Arab police states.

Al Qaeda is able to tap into Muslim anger towards the US fueled by real grievances. As long at the US ignores the grievances and contributes to Muslims being mistreated or exploited, al Qaeda will be able to continue recruiting terrorists. Sending in the US military to occupy Afghanistan just adds to the grievances making it more likely that al Qaeda will grow. You don't have to be a pacifist to understand that a stupid and unjust strategy will lead to failure.

Most realistic planners think the US should address Muslim grievances in a serious way, work diplomatically with all the countries of the Middle East and South Asia to resolve conflicts, and use police techniques to capture/kill Osama bin Laden and the dozen other leaders of al Qaeda. This strategy is much more likely to be successful. And it would cause a lot less damage to Afghanistan and other countries and cost the US a lot less in military casualties and tax dollars. President Obama seems to be taking a few baby steps in this direction, but those efforts will likely be overshadowed by the escalation of the war.

by RandomNonviolence 2009-03-28 12:27PM | 0 recs
gotta disagree...

the fact that we made it clear to the taliban government that we would hold them responsible if al-qaeda launched an attack on america before 9-11 fits perfectly the "last resort" criteria.  that was our last resort.  you can't simply keep changing the white lines just because you don't like the outcome.

i strongly suspect that you would recognize no probability for success from armed conflict, so this point is hardly worth pursuing.

and your implied assumption that president obama will continue the bush policies wrt discrimination and prisoners of war shows a profound misreading of the president's policies.  all the major institutions that have traditionally worked in the just war tradition recognized the casus belli in our efforts in afghanistan.  if there is any change in that, i'll be happy to let you know.

michael scheuer and i correspond on an email list, and there is no need to repeat our many disagreements here.  i don't believe in his approach any more than i believe in your's.  if you chose to follow scheuer, that's fine.

having said that, you assume falsely that obama will be following bush's path by boosting our forces in afghanistan.  you are wrong.  if you want to argue with bush's strategy wrt to al-qaeda, you need to talk to someone else.  i'm certainly not going to defend him.

president obama's strategy to combat al-qaeda is much more global, much more strategic in approach, and much more long-term.  creating a level military/militant balance in the afpak region is merely one part of his strategy.  you seem eager to overlook his message of hope for all and his global popularity as counterpoints to the grievances you cite.  president obama will engage the islamic world, and will offer its young people another way to interact with the west.

i can only laugh at your your suggestion that some magical police force will find, let alone arrest, UBL given where we believe he is located.  that would be starkly contrary to the prevalent culture in that region.  that is, if such a police force existed.  the president has to deal with the world as it exists.  he can't rely on mythical forces to protect us or serve our purposes.  if you didn't realize that this was the policy a president obama would pursue, you weren't paying attention during the campaign...

by bored now 2009-03-28 02:00PM | 0 recs
Re: The Thinking of Bruce Reidel

Noone here seems to be thinking in terms of the nature of the problem in astan... achieve real peace, you need to have some stability AND self-reliance.  Stability in knowing that the rules tomorrow will reasonably be the same as today AND self-reliance in that you have SOME say in how the rules of stability are either formed or executed.

A-stan, right now, has neither.  It is pretty much chaos.  Where the Military is, there is SOME stability, otherwise it is in the hands of the locals.

So you use the military to FORCE SOME STABILITY into a chaotic situation...assault, marshal law, curfew, law enforcement, or simply overbearing presence...there are many different ways to create the beginings of stability.  It is what comes AFTER this that is so tough.

I have spoken with many low level soldiers who served in A-stan.  Several of them are now with the DEA fighting the drug wars here in the USA.  They say the problem, especially in the south, is two fold:  1.  Poppies are a cash crop but provide no ability for sustinance for the farmer and 2. the local authorities who we MAY be paying to reduce the popie fields are most likely FORCING the farmers to grow the crops to either pay their own governors/taliban lords/warlords or to line their own pockets.  There is no incentive to NOT produce Poppies.  So there is no self-reliance, which the local overlords ALSO like.  Put in the US Military, have them provide protection while you work with the local farmers to help them grow FOOD for a few seasons, help them out with equipment, irrigation, and roads and in the end they have some of both stability and self-reliance.  And they will NOT want to give that back up easily or cheaply, which then pushes the "undesired" elements out of the area.

But to say that the military is the problem is just a knee-jerk reaction.  The Military CAN BE the problem, but you also have to have a situation to bargain in good faith that often, in situations like this, require a military presence for stability and, if necessary, threat.

And, I hate to say this but, this is still War.  Innocent bystanders will get killed/hurt.  The way the war is being played right now is a war of wills...who will break first.  There are three outcomes:

1.  The west tires and capitulates.  A-stan is left much like the Russians left and after a few years returns to the hands of the The Taliban/Al Queda.  They honestly win.  Period.

2.  We relaunch our efforts to break the will of the population by unrestricted warfare in A-stan and parts of Pakistan.  This risks a nuclear confrontation and it involves the deaths of a LOT of people.  Think Germany/Japan in WWII.  We wear them down until they prefer capitulation to resistance.  Then we implement a Marshall plan to make them productive.  It could/would work, but the costs are high.

3. A mix of local Military presence for stability/diplomatic work at local levels for funding of projects/deal making with moderate/liberal portions of the Taliban while also working with/on Pakistan to help stabilize the entire region.  This is the "soft-hand" approach that involves winning the minds/hearts of the local population, letting them govern themselves in steps, and means that strategic projects and outside corporate involvement take a back seat (in other words, it would involve restraint on the business side of the west...not as easy as you might initially think...) This is the preferred approach, but the one that would involve a LOT of patience and dealing with ups and downs, troops in and out as needed.

I see Obama clearly taking option 3 right now.  The only thing is to see if he can convince the country to keep working at it.  My guess is we would get a WHOLE LOT more patient if OBL where to be captured/killed. (that has its own problems because of the "cult" status of Al can lead to martyrdom which is a BAD thing to have to deal with.)

Bush WAS half hearted in that he only did what was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to make thing stick together in A-stan.  He BUNGLED IT, as did Rumsfeld, and they know it.  They held back resources that could have been used early on to help secure the country at a time of good will towards the US.  They proped and supported leaders who the people disliked and did not trust who have now been shown to be corrupt.  They never tried to do anything BETTER in A-stan, they just sorta wanted it to fix itself, especially if we gave a central Govt. a lot of money so we could build a oil pipeline.  Bush F-ed it up BAD.  To imply that something better could have been done on the Military side considering what little they got from Bush, and how much they had politicos/business working AGAINST the military mission borders on stupidity.

Rant over.

by Hammer1001 2009-03-28 01:10PM | 0 recs
Re: The Thinking of Bruce Reidel

Under Reagan, our CIA armed and trained a lot of right-wing fundamentalist peasants and urged them to attack the government of Afghanistan, which then was supported by the Soviet Union. Finally, the Soviet Union intervened and occupied Afghanistan and we racheted up our support of the anti-Soviet forces. When the Russians finally withdrew, in failure, we did nothing to help the people of Afghanistan avoid a rule by religious fundamentalists. No, we let the Taliban take over.
Bush II didn't like the Taliban government of Afghanistan since they would not allow American corporations to build oil pipelines across their country.

So, using the Taliban support of Bin Laden as convenient cover for an invasion, Bush installed Karsai, a former CIA man and a former Union Oil Company of California executive, as the head of the new puppet government in Afghanistan.

All the bombs, tortures, imprisonments and murders by US occupying military forces are not going to force the Afghanis to accept our puppet government in their country.

Obama should stop committing war crimes in Afghanistan and withdraw all of our contractors, Nato forces and American military occupiers.

by Oval12345678 2009-03-28 01:22PM | 0 recs


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